The following article is written by Mr Sylvester Konteh. Sylvester Konteh is a student under care of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. He is from The Gambia, where he pastors Grace Reformed Church. The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa with a population of about 2 million, 95% of whom are Muslim. Sylvester and his wife, Johnette, have 6 children.
CHRISTIAN AND MUSLIM BACKGROUND
I am a Sierra Leonean by nationality and was raised in that country. My father had a Christian background, and my mother a Muslim background. For a time, I grew up in my mother’s home, but mostly I grew up with both my parents.
I went to a Catholic church with my mum, who had converted because of my dad. My dad hardly went to church. I went to church believing that all religion was the same. I was an only child and at home we didn’t pray or read the Bible. We believed in our African traditions and not in God. I took part in the Catholic mass as an altar boy, but that was just so that I could engage in the social activities in the church. To me, the church had no power, God was not there, and the place of power was in the use of charms.
MY YOUTHFUL AGE
I grew up very wild and experimented with a lot of things. I believed that
anything that works for you is good; try it, and if it works, then it is not bad, as long as you find satisfaction in it. Moving from one experiment to the other, I was never satisfied. I was an empty soul looking for an empty life, without meaning or substance.
MY CONVERSION EXPERIENCE
One day a preacher came to the college where my father was a lecturer. The preacher played a movie about hell fire, and at the end of the movie he presented the gospel to the many people who stayed afterward. This pastor’s church had often visited the college campus with tracts and gospel materials, and preached the gospel from house to house. But this time was different. The whole night I could not sleep after watching the movie about hell fire and hearing that if I don’t repent I would end up in hell for my sins. I kept thinking about all the sinful activities I was engaged in and how I justly deserve the wrath and curse of God in my life.
The next day I saw the pastor and asked him what I must do to be saved. He said, Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, and all your sins will be forgiven. This was in 1995.
I followed the pastor to church on week days and on the Lord’s Days. From that point on I started having morning devotions, read the Bible everyday, and meditated on the Word of God. I was so serious with my newfound faith that I read the whole Bible in one year. Sadly, however, this particular denomination had no clear teaching of the Word of God; they had no clear doctrine.
MY PATH TO DISCIPLESHIP
I was a disciple under the Pentecostal and charismatic movement. I was taught to manipulate God to get what I wanted. I was told I could do all the miracles of Jesus Christ and more if I believed enough. Coming from a mystical background, it was an easy idea for me to accept.
The obsession of power, control, and mysticism dominated the charismatic
movement, in my experience. The name of Jesus Christ was used like a
charm to get what you wanted. Like the experimental person I was, I wanted to see more power displayed in my life; so I would go for three days without food and water, trying to chase all the demons away and remove all the mountains before me. When my father died, they practically chased me out of the room where the dead body was laid because I said I was going to wake my father up. I tried that with many dead people and mentally ill people but it never worked. The pastor would say, “You need more faith,” or, “Go to the mountain for prayers.” Some of my pastors kept mentally ill people at home to pray for them. Life is more difficult and frustrating when you trust and believe in God for what He has not promised you.
A WILD CHASE
Since I had become very active in the church, some of the pastors started making me an offer to become a pastor, but I refused. I just wanted to help the pastors. I felt sorry for most of them as they went through financial needs and struggles. I would do my best to help, but it was never enough.
I started evangelizing and going out for the morning cry, which is to wake people up in the morning from house to house and preach the gospel. I went to almost all my friends and the joints I used to go to as the sinful, experimental boy I was. I was preaching what I knew to be true, adding my own testimony to it. Because of my outreach, the church made me a preacher without any training. My name would come up as a Sabbath school teacher and a preacher on some occasions. By then I was told that all I needed was power; theology was not important.
In 1999, after three months of training, I was sent to The Gambia to plant a church. The pastor told me that all I needed was power; if I did miracles, I would establish a very big church. I started the church, and I had about 70 to 80 people who I was preaching and prophesying to as a boy of 21.
To cut a long story short, the result of false doctrine was frustration, disappointment, and resignation. If you promise people that all will be well with them when they believe the gospel, they will wear the pastor and the church out because eventually their problems will not be permanently solved on this side of life. They will keep moving from one challenge to the other. You need to know how to live in the storm, through the Lord’s help, and not to run away from it. Eventually I resigned from this church plant.
JOURNEY FROM CHARISMATIC TO REFORMED
Thanks be to God, a turning point came around four years ago when a Scottish charity, The Gambia Partnership, came to The Gambia. The team included members from the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland (RPCS). A deacon in the Stornoway RPC, Scott MacIver was particularly used by the Lord to introduce me to and disciple me in Reformed doctrine. I was supplied with books and videos that pointed me to the sovereignty of God, to divine providence, and to the kingship of Christ in the church. With the help of Scott, who was replying to every one of my questions and walking me through different Reformed doctrines and practices, I started dropping my preconceived notions and beliefs that were contrary to true Christianity. I eventually relinquished control.
The most difficult thing to do in this world is to act like God. The sovereignty of God and the kingship of Jesus Christ taught me that I am not in control, that there is a supreme leader and ruler of the church and this world who is not subject to the whims and caprices of men. Nobody dictates to God; no one tells Him what to do. He does everything according to His own time and will.
For the first time in my Christian life I stopped trying to be God. Oh, what a joy to behold the sovereignty of God; and the kingship of Christ was comforting, enriching, and liberating to my soul. I saw my errors for what they were and repented as the light shined in my soul. I started giving up my superhero mentality.
The charismatic movement taught me to believe that I was the dispenser of God’s grace and everything revolved around me. The church gravitated towards the pastor; the church was like a shrine and the pastor was like a witch doctor. All the people needed was the outward administration of the pastor— the water, the oil, the touch of the man of God—and all would be well.
My reformation experience changed all of those beliefs. The ordinances of the church are made efficacious by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, not by the will of man. God sovereignly dispenses His blessings according to His will, not according to the dictates of a pastor.
It was a serious battle to get my wife to believe what I now believe. I read books out loud during the day or at night for my wife to hear me and to spark discussion. When reading or talking got nowhere, I would stop and pray. Knowing the kind of person I was, with God’s help she started to listen to me and eventually joined me in the reformation.
Currently I pastor Grace Reformed Church, which was recently established in the busy town of Brikama. A small but growing congregation join me, my wife, and our children each Lord’s Day. We sing the Psalms in our worship, usually one to a Western tune and two to African tunes. We have one other elder and gather at the home of one of the members of the congregation.
Almost two years ago, I came under care of the RPCS. The presbytery thought it wise to enroll me as a distance learner at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (RPTS) to prepare me more, as I was ill equipped for the ministry. I am now in my second year at the seminary, and I am learning a lot.
Joining RPTS has been a dynamic experience in my life. From one professor to the other, I am able to connect the dots that succinctly enforce my belief in the doctrines of the Bible. I moved from a baby preacher to an adult, from kindergarten to secondary school. I am more confident and assured now that I can see clearly with many proofs. I feel like starting ministry all over again and righting all the wrongs that I have ever taught anyone. I wish that my first sermon would have been after my graduation from RPTS!
Presently, Grace Reformed Church has 20–25 members. The zeal for reformation, knowing that there is serious famine in the land, has led me to interact with a lot of groups. Recently, it has been encouraging to see a number of young men come to faith. By God’s grace we started a Reformed Pastors Fellowship with about 10 pastors and Reformed theological lectures every Friday that a number of the young men in the congregation attend. I also teach the Bible on a weekly basis in two local Christian schools, one established by the Scottish charity and the other by my wife.
I want by God’s grace to see many disciples raised in The Gambia and beyond and many Reformed churches to be planted to the glory of God. I am thankful for the support I have received from the Reformed Presbyterian Church so far. I solicit your prayers for my family and myself, to be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord and in prayer.
This article was published in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, and it is reproduced here by permission.